Stories of the Magicians - Alfred J. Church
Thalaba drew Abdaldar's Ring from his finger, and threw it into the sea. "I will trust in nothing but in Thee, O God," he cried. This done he lay down on the beach to rest, for his heart was not yet calm enough for prayer. And now he felt that there was some spiritual presence near him.
Then there came a voice, "Thalaba," and the youth knew the voice of Moath; and after this a second and a dearer voice that said, "Thalaba, go on, and finish your work. Let me no longer suffer hope."
Thalaba looked eagerly to the sea, and as he looked the Damsel drove the little boat to the land, saying, "Come."
He leapt on board.
"Have you had comfort in your prayer?" she asked.
"Yes," said he, "a heavenly visitation."
"God be praised," she answered, "then I have not hoped in vain," and her voice trembled, and the tears ran down her cheeks. She went on: "Stranger, in years long past there was one who vowed himself as you have done, the Champion of the Lord against the Sorcerer race. He was young and gentle and brave, a lion-hearted man. He loved me, and I kept him from his calling, till the hour was past, and the angel who should have crowned him smote him in anger. Years and years have passed, and in his place of penance he waits for the Deliverer. Surely you are he!"
As she spoke, they came to the entrance of the cave, and passed beneath the arch. The sea-birds were screaming from their nests, and yet not in fear, for they did not know the shape of man. As they went on, the light grew dimmer and more dim till they came to where the waters lapped on the rock that bounded them. There two doors of adamant closed up the passage. On the rock beside sat a hoary-headed man, watching an hour-glass.
"Is it the hour appointed?" asked the Damsel.
The old man neither answered her nor lifted his eyes, but the sands were now running low in the glass. When the last were gone, he lifted up his hand and struck the gates. The gates opened at the stroke, and the Damsel said, "Go on; I wait you here."
Not for a moment did he tarry, not one look did he cast behind him, but hastened on. There was a yellow light in the cavern such as may be seen upon the hills at sunset when the sun shines through the mist upon the hills; the path still was downward till it ended in a precipice. slack as night was the abyss, and over the depth was a little car supported by four wings, living wings, but without body or head and unfeathered, springing from one stem. And on the brink, fastened with fiery fetters to the rocks, lay a young man. It was he who had lingered over the appointed hour, neglectful in the arms of love.
Thalaba exclaimed, "Servant of God, can I help you?"
"I have sinned," said he, "and I endure my punishment with patience. The hour that sees the destruction of the Sorcerer race will set me free."
"Is it not come? Verily it has by this token," and with fearless hand he grasped the burning fetters, tore them from the rock, and threw them blazing into the pit. Then for a moment the vapours kindled by the fire flamed up, then all was dark again.
"Deliverer!" cried the youth, "and where is she?"
"Lo! she waits for you at the gates."
"And you will join us in your triumph?"
"Wait not for me; my path has been appointed."
"But your name? that we may spread it abroad in the world and bless thee."
"Bless the Merciful; "so saying, Thalaba murmured the name of God, and leapt into the car. Down it sailed a measureless depth, till at last it struck upon the rock.
Thalaba stood dazed and giddy for a time with the shock; then looking round he saw a distant light, small as a speck, but most intense. Beyond all was darkness. "It is no friend," thought he to himself, "that the darkness hides." And indeed it was true. For a rebel Afreet, largest of his kind, lay on the ground at the gate of the Sorcerers' cave. He scented the approach of human food, and the lust of hunger burned fiercely in his eye. Thalaba went on, shading his eyes with his hand, and when he came within due distance laid an arrow in the rest, and fixing his gaze resolutely on the light, loosed the bow. It pierced the Afreet where he lay; and he sent up a cry so hideous and so loud that no human voice could equal it.
Thalaba stepped across the monster as he lay in the agonies of death, and smote on the doors of stone, bidding them in the name of God give way. The rocks shuddered at the sound, and the doors were rent asunder, and in a moment he saw the Teraph, and the Fire, and Khawla, and Mohareb armed, ready for conflict. Thalaba struck his raised arm with numbing force, and rushed by, for he saw amongst the flames Hodeirah's holy sword. Then Khawla met the youth, and leapt upon him, and clasped him with close clinging arms, while she bade Mohareb smite the deadly blow. He spurned her to the ground, and when she rose again and clung about his knees, he seized her leathery neck with a throttling grasp, and thrust her aside, and sprang forward to the sword. The flames knew the Destroyer, and curled around him, and coiled up his robe, and made a crown on his head.
The moment that Thalaba had laid his hand upon his father's sword the Living Image in the inner cave smote the round altar. Then all the Domdaniel Cavern rocked to its foundations, and the earth felt the shock. All the Sorcerer race, wherever dispersed, felt and obeyed the summons; such was the compulsion laid upon them by the Covenant of Hell. They were sworn to meet the common danger and to share the common doom. And now they crowded round the Destroyer, vainly endeavouring to crush the single foe. First of all was Mohareb, for the witch had foretold that one blow would be fatal to Thalaba and to him; and now, despairing of his own safety, he sought to uphold the cause of Eblis.
But none can withstand the Destroyer armed as he is with the fated sword. Mohareb lifts his shield to parry the stroke, and it is shorn in two. He lifts his scymetar, and the broken hilt hangs from his hand, and now he bleeds, he flies, he strives to hide himself in the crowd. They too feel the sword; they fly to the inner cave, and fall fearfully about the Giant Idol's feet.
It was a Living Image made by magic art of flesh and bone and human blood. It had the shape of Eblis, in strength and stature such as he was of old when he stood among the Sons of God pre-eminent, Lucifer, Son of the Morning. In one hand he grasped a sceptre, with which he had power to shake the earth, and raise the sea in storms, and lay cities in ruins, with the other he sustained the weight of the sea, for the cavern was roofed with the waters.
Now the Sorcerers lay trembling round his feet; and Mohareb clung about his knees. The Idol was pale and calm with excess of fear, for he knew the Destroyer. Sure of his stroke and without haste Thalaba advanced. Okba met him on his way, the only fearless man of all that miserable company.
"Strike me," he cried, "I am he that stole at midnight into thy father's tent. This is the hand that pierced Hodeirah's heart. This is the hand that was red w
"Old man," said Thalaba, "I strike thee not. The harm that thou hast done to me and mine has brought its own bitter punishment. I pardon thee for thy daughter's sake. For her sake repent while it is yet time."
Okba stood astonished, and his heart was softened, and his tears gushed out. Then was heard a voice.
"Thou hast done well, my Servant. Ask and receive thy reward."
Thalaba said, "I have but wished to do my duty. But look on this Sorcerer, many are his crimes, but mercy is infinite. If I have found favour, let his soul be saved from utter death."
The Voice replied, "The prayers of penitence never arise unheard. Ask for thyself."
"I am alone on earth," said Thalaba, "do with me as thou wilt."
Then came no answering voice. But the spirit of Hodeirah came to see the work of vengeance accomplished, and by the side of Hodeirah, a pure form clothed with rosy light, was Zeinab. Then Thalaba knew that his hour was come. He leapt forward and plunged his sword hilt-deep into the Idol's heart. The domed vault fell in, and all the tribe of the Sorcerers perished together, but Oneiza received her husband into the bowers of Paradise.